As consumers, we don’t often worry about food trends. We go to restaurants and either order our tried-and-true favorite meals or boldly try new menu items.
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But for restaurant owners, food trends matter. Depending on the type of dining establishment you run, you’re going to lose customers if you’re not serving what customers want—or think they want. (Kale?)
In its recently issued annual food trends report, The Pleasure Principle: The “I Want What I Want When I Want It” Year in Food, Beverage and Hospitality, restaurant consultants AF&Co. says, “The economic upturn in 2014, coupled with the desire to attract the millennial patron, has led to a surge of hip new concepts, personalized service and customized experiences geared towards satisfying this ‘demand’ generation.”
According to Andrew Freeman, AF&Co. president, some of the foods restaurant owners should consider adding to or calling out on their menus include:
- Spanish cuisine
- Nduja, a spicy, porky, Calabrian (part of Italy), spreadable cured meat
Breakfast for dinner:
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- Scrambled eggs
- Savory pancakes—made with sourdough, sauerkraut, or whole-grain cheddar pancakes with heirloom tomatoes and roasted garlic or zucchini pancakes
- Spicy—particularly ethnic food “that packs a punch”
- Sour—pickles, vinegary shrub-based cocktails, mustards, kimchi
And for dessert:
- Candy—whether retro, artisanal or newfangled, Freeman says, “Candy is coming on strong. Sweet and unique, house-made candies can be the perfect way to close out a meal.”
- Soft serve ice cream. Though Freeman says, “don’t call it ice cream.” It’s all about “seasonal flavors, innovative sundae combinations and a plethora of sophisticated toppings.”
Freeman also calls out some overall restaurant trends including one he calls “Passion Projects where restaurant owners aren’t sticking to one cuisine, but instead serving food they’re passionate about.”
The trendiest restaurants are no longer just located in the big cities. Freeman cited cities like Asheville, Oakland and San Antonio that are so affordable owners can go bold and experiment more.
One of the challenges restaurants face is few lunch time diners, as many workers are opting to eat at their desks. Freeman cites several restaurants who are tackling what he calls “The Incredible Shrinking Lunch Hour” by increasing the number of options on their take-out menus, offering food delivery and opening a (much) smaller to-go only venue.
Beverages are also experiencing a creative renaissance. Some of 2015’s hottest trends include:
- Short cocktails, which are miniature versions of full-sized drinks (think sampler menu)
- Artisanal cider, inspired by the success of the craft beer movement (both with or without alcohol
- Gin is the new vodka
- Bottling wine in creative containers like old-fashioned milk bottles and test tubes
If you aren’t yet a restaurant owner, but want to be, Freeman cites the “culinary incubators, which are popping up all over the country to help new food entrepreneurs lower the barriers to entry.” For example the Union Kitchen in Washington, DC offers wanna-be restaurateurs access to professional kitchen space, training programs and more.
Starting and running a restaurant is not cheap. Many startups have turned to crowdfunding to help raise the necessary funds. Freeman says, “Since 2009, close to 3,000 food and restaurant projects have raised $41.47 million through Kickstarter.”
Finally, something to keep in mind ahead of the New Year, Freeman reports kale salad is out and banana blossom salad is in.